Property & Registration in Today’s China – Strange Stuff

Both the Chinese government and most of the Chinese people are obsessed with property. The government obtains much of its tax revenue from it and despite astronomical prices large sectors of the population continue to endeavor to buy it.

Given China’s socialist past, perhaps this is hardly surprising. But there’s more to it than that. Property rights have now been intertwined with China’s 2000-year old hukou [户口, i.e. household registration] system. Whereas prior to approximately 2000 registration was linked to mere occupancy rights, now it is linked to ownership. Without ownership, no registration. And without registration, you don’t get the various prized state goodies on offer. In particular, your children don’t enjoy the right to attend the local public schools (at least not for free).

Apparently you may register anywhere you or a blood relative owns property. Renting doesn’t count. If no-one owns any property (or has left-over socialist era occupancy rights), and you’re not into home schooling, then you’ll probably have to make due with one of the migrant children schools.

If you’re getting the feeling that renting is sort of frowned upon, you’re on the right track. With such an incredibly property-centric system in place, no wonder property prices remain so stubbornly high. Many owner-residents of China’s top tier cities may be dollar millionaires in terms of their net assets, but due to the registration system most of these never noticed.

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